EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A number of empirical studies have suggested that servant leadership can enhance the well-being /emotional health of its followers by creating a positive work climate (Black, 2010; Jaramillo et al., 2009a; Neubert et al., 2008). Followers’ sense of well-being, in turn, has been found to be related to greater organizational commitment (Cerit, 2010; Hale & Fields, 2007; Hamilton & Bean, 2005; Han et al., 2010; Pekerti & Sendjaya, 2010). Greater the organizational commitment, higher is the employee job satisfaction (Cerit, 2009; Chung et al., 2010; Jenkins & Stewart, 2010; Mayer et al., 2008) and lower the employee turnover ( Babakus et al., 2011; Jaramillo et al., 2009b).
A servant leader, with his reported behavior characteristics such as empathy, compassion, altruistic calling and healing may not only build a mentally and emotionally healthy workforce, but also inculcate a sense of cohesiveness, collaboration and sustainable relationships among the followers by understanding and addressing their feelings and emotions. It has been reported that cohesiveness and collaboration in a servant led organization increases pro-social and altruistic behavior among followers that improves organizational performance (Ebener & O’Connell, 2010; Ehrhart, 2004; Hu & Liden, 2011; Walumbwa et al., 2010), and overall team effectiveness (Mayer et al. 2008; Mc Cuddy & Cavin, 2008; Taylor et al., 2007).
The significance of understanding and addressing the feelings and emotions of followers and ensuring their well-being thus becomes evident from the above findings. The aim of the present qualitative study was to understand as to how servant leaders understand, empathize with, and address the emotional turmoil of their employees.
Orientation for emotional healing is reported to be a unique characteristic of servant leaders. But negligible empirical research has been done to understand the way servant leaders alleviate the suffering of their employees. The present study fills this gap by exploring this area using personal accounts of servant leaders about their experiences, reflections and analysis of their approach to emotional healing.
Qualitative methods and techniques were used from different qualitative methodologies for data collection and analysis. We conducted fifteen semi-structured interviews with leaders in corporate, education and government sectors.
Our results suggest that servant leaders, with their orientation for empathy, compassion, healing, altruistic-calling, and listening etc..., adopt a compassionate approach to manage employees’ emotional turmoil. All three parts of the process of compassion, described by Clark (1997) and Kanov et al (2004) are clearly visible in the narratives of our respondents. Their characteristics of empathy and compassion automatically orient the servant leaders toward immediate awareness of followers’ suffering. This leads to felt /experienced empathic concern and compassion that trigger in them an urge to take some action to relieve the suffering of the followers. This ‘action’, also termed as ‘ compassionate responding’, manifests itself in a set of three step-wise behaviors- (1) Patient listening and discussion; (2) Empathetic handling that includes comforting and calming as well as guiding and counseling the suffering employee; and (3) Taking personal responsibility and providing support (emotional, social, financial and administrative).
Insight provided by this study will guide the working managers to understand and practice the process of alleviating the emotional turmoil of employees in such a way that a culture of compassion and benevolence will emerge and sustain for the long term health and growth of the organization.